Sarah Monteith, CEO of Steve Coogan’s Production Company Baby Cow, Teases New Alan Partridge, Eyes U.S. Expansion

Sarah Monteith Baby Cow
Courtesy of Baby Cow

Baby Cow are the production company behind some of the U.K.’s best-loved comedy shows, including “Gavin and Stacey” with James Corden and Ruth Jones, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding’s “The Mighty Boosh” and “This Time With Alan Partridge” starring Steve Coogan as the cringe-worthy fictional television host.

It was a prescient Coogan who founded Baby Cow alongside producer Henry Normal in 1998, long before talent-led production companies were a thing. In 2016 BBC Studios took a majority stake in the company, with Coogan staying on as a shareholder and creative director. He also stars in many (although not all) of the company’s projects – which span TV, film, comedy and drama – including the recent Channel 4 series “Chivalry,” in which he plays an old-school film producer getting to grips with a changing world opposite Sarah Solemani, and upcoming feature film “The Lost King,” about an amateur historian who finds the remains of King Richard III in a Leicester city car park (the film is set to premiere at TIFF next month).

With Baby Cow having effectively conquered the U.K., the studio is now eyeing the U.S. market. In March 2021, Sarah Monteith (pictured above), formerly of BBC Studios, was appointed CEO of Baby Cow, with part of her remit being to amplify the company’s footprint within the U.S. One of her first moves was to hire “Chivalry” producer Isabel Richardson as the company’s New York-based development producer in order to bring an American eye to Baby Cow’s projects.

While Baby Cow has no current plans to open an office in the U.S., Richardson is the latest addition to its U.S. network – which also includes its agency CAA and Jax Media, who provided production services on “Chivalry” – while in the U.K., she says, BBC Studios are “the perfect partners.”

Monteith hints there may be other transatlantic partnerships in the works but none she’s prepared to talk about yet. The plan, she says, is to “make content that is a hybrid British American sensibility located in the U.S.”

The projects will still feature Baby Cow’s USP – unconventional characters sat within universal stories and always with “something to say” – as well as narratives that tread the line between what Monteith describes as “light and dark.” “You’re always going to find in our stuff some lightness around the darkness,” she says, giving “Chivalry” – a dramedy that dealt with themes around #MeToo – as an example. “Steve puts it brilliantly where he will talk about how you can go far darker and far further into very difficult subjects if you play with the light and dark.”

Among the stories they’re currently developing that have “something to say” is “To Catch a King,” (working title) a series about 21-year-old King Charles II’s bid to evade capture by Oliver Cromwell’s army. It is being adapted from the book by Charles Spencer (Princess Diana’s brother) by Coogan and his “Philomena” co-writer Jeff Pope. “It’s a very interesting story, if you’re interested in history or royals,” says Monteith. “We wouldn’t do it just because of that, great though that is. The reason we would do it is we look at it and go ‘Wow – from the safety of the past, we can say a lot about division in the U.K., about privilege, about [the] working classes.’ If you don’t want to watch it on that level, you can just watch it because it’s a really driving, thrilling cat-and-mouse chase in the same vein as ‘Lord of the Rings’ or any of those shows.”

Also on the slate are comedy series “Fat Camp” with Katy Wix and Adam Drake and sketch show “Live at the Moth Club,” as well as, potentially, U.S. adaptations of existing Baby Cow properties. The team are already working with BBC Studios to review their vast library of IP and see what might work Stateside, either as a straight adaptation or a re-location.

One character the team are already considering for exportation to America is Alan Partridge, the cringe-inducing television host character created by Coogan over thirty years ago. “There’s so much and so many different ways you could do Partridge,” says Monteith. “You could take it as is into the U.S. and locate it there. The next Partridge iteration that we’re doing, which is in the U.K., would lend itself to that, or you can do it in a completely different way.”

(However there are currently no plans for a U.S. adaptation of “Gavin and Stacey,” Monteith says. “All of that would come from James and Ruth and what they want to do really.”)

With inflation, the streamer bubble bursting and an uncertain economy both in the U.S. and the U.K., the landscape for all indies, Monteith acknowledges, is tricky. “The model is very challenged at the moment,” she says. “It is a trickier time but we’re lucky in that we are a well-known and trusted brand.”

In fact, Monteith reveals, Baby Cow are one of the few production companies who can claim to have their own fanbase – “The fandom is really dedicated,” she says – and some projects, such as a new £500,000 ($600,000) YouTube-based initiative called Baby Shorts are aimed directly at them. A collaboration with BBC Studios spearheaded by Baby Cow COO Asha Amster, Baby Shorts will be used as a digital development platform for creators to try out material and formats online and is a way for Baby Cow to fund proof of concept shorts as well as showcase new talent.

For both Monteith and Coogan, nurturing talent is as important as selling a new show. “I would say we have the same philosophy in terms of how we run the company,” Monteith says. So both of us want a culture that is generous and porous and a home for writers. I think the how-we-do-stuff is as important to us as the what-we-do. We don’t always get it right, but we do put so much focus and effort into just creating an environment where people can do their best work and that is nurturing, that’s creative, that’s democratic, that’s non-hierarchical. And we really share that philosophy.”

Coogan concurs. “Sarah and I instinctively share a vision for Baby Cow,” he tells Variety via email. “A collective of multi-generational talent thriving in a nurturing creative environment, all with something to say. Entertaining with a point of view. Story telling with substance. It feels distinctively Baby Cow. We’re already well-known in the U.S., but now we’ll be creating specifically with the U.S. in mind.”